Waters: Speculation tax opt out is a case of guilty until proved innocent

Province uses negative-option billing to let homeowners out of new tax

I live in West Kelowna and according to the B.C.’s Ministry of Finance I’m a property speculator—at least until I tell them otherwise.

And to make matters worse, the province will tax me heavily unless I fill out a form proving I live in my home and it’s the only one I own.

I’m not alone.

More than 88,000 other residents in West Kelowna and Kelowna are also deemed guilty until proven innocent in the government’s new specualtion tax money grab.

It’s negative-option billing where you have to pay unless you remember to opt out. The province won’t let businesses in B.C. do that, but apparently it’s OK when Victoria does it.

News that the residents of Kelowna, West Kelowna, the Lower Mainland, the Fraser Valley, Victoria and Nanaimo areas will have to make their own cases to avoid paying the controversial new property tax caught a number of people off-guard last week.

Using information gleaned from B.C. Assessment, the government is sending out more than one million letters to home owners in the affected municipalities giving them the chance to opt out. The homeowners’ declaration must be made by March 31 to avoid paying the maximum two per cent levy on the assessed value of the property.

Oh, and one other thing. All the people on title have to sign the declaration—spouses, children, divorced partners, everyone —whether they live in the home or not. So it would pay to hang around the house in the next few months and watch your mailbox.

The form-filling fiasco is just the latest illustration of how the province has bungled its attempt to address the real need to curtail property speculation in B.C.

The crafters of the ill-conceived tax appear to have not given much thought to its impact on both economies of the municipalities where it will come into effect this spring, or the people who could be affected. And they don’t want to hear about any problems now.

West Kelowna submitted a Freedom of Information request to find out what criteria was used to not only come up with the tax, but why the chosen municipalities were…well…chosen. Nothing came back.

The tax has admirable goals but it won’t do what the government wants it to do. It’s a tax on perceived wealth, not property speculation. A true property flipping tax, where minimum time limits are set for ownership before sale to avoid paying an extra tax would really address speculation. A tax on homes left vacant would address the issue of empty houses.

The government’s speculation tax simply takes money from those who own property.

And the negative-option billing requirement to opt out just adds insult to injury.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.

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